We are just hours away from the Seahawks biggest game of the season, an NFC West Championship Game against the Rams in Week 16. The caveat, of course, is that Seattle can still win the division with a win over the 49ers in Week 17 and a Rams loss to the Cardinals.
But this game provides a huge opportunity, nonetheless. Here are the five storylines I’ll be watching closely on Sunday at Lumen Field.
1. How much will Russell Wilson challenge Jalen Ramsey?
Wilson way wary of throwing at Ramsey in Seattle’s Week 10 loss to the Rams. Ramsey shadowed DK Metcalf all game long and limited him to two receptions on four targets for 28 yards. Metcalf’s first target didn’t come until the third quarter, either.
The Seahawks will have to be far more aggressive in this one. Ramsey is a special player, but so is Metcalf. He’s a receiver capable of coming down with 50/50 balls, and Wilson should give him chances to make such plays. I’m eager to see if Metcalf makes a few contested catches against Ramsey, especially if they come in clutch moments or in the end zone.
2. How will Seattle’s reinforcements impact the game?
The Seahawks were without Chris Carson, Carlos Hyde, Rashaad Penny, Ethan Pocic and Shaquill Griffin the first time these teams met. Jamal Adams was also essentially playing with one arm while battling through a painful shoulder injury. That’s not to say the Rams didn’t earn their win, but it’s still worth pointing out how decimated Seattle was on both sides of the football. The Seahawks will also be getting Greg Olsen and Bryan Mone back off of IR this weekend.
Both teams are about as healthy as possible going into this one, which is why it serves as such a good barometer heading into the playoffs.
3. Can the Seahawks offense solve its third-down woes and/or find explosive passing plays?
Seattle ranks 24th in third down success, converting just 40 percent of attempts this season. That includes a meager 5-for-12 against Washington last week. The Seahawks have also adopted more of a dink-and-dunk passing game with opponents focusing on eliminating the deep ball. That’s a bad combination, especially when playing a good defense. It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks finding success offensively without remedying one of those two deficiencies on Sunday.
4. Is the Seahawks defense for real?
The Seahawks defense has been objectively good for the month and a half. That can’t be disputed. But most of that strong play has come against some of the worst offenses in football: the Eagles (pre-Jalen Hurts), Giants (without Daniel Jones), Jets and Washington (without Alex Smith). On top of the Rams offense being one of the better groups in the NFL, Sean McVay has had Pete Carroll’s number. A standout performance from Seattle’s defense on Sunday will tell us a lot about this team’s ceiling with the playoffs rapidly approaching.
5. Will the Wild Card Round be hosted in Seattle or Southern California?
Assuming the Buccaneers beat the Falcons in Week 17, the loser of Rams-Seahawks on Sunday will drop to the No. 6 seed. The winner of the NFC West, barring a Week 17 loss by the Packers or Falcons, will be the No. 3 seed. That means these two teams are likely on a collision course for a Wild Card Round matchup.